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Elizabeth Kostova and Debra Gwartney at CapitaLiterature

September 15, 2012 by · 2 comments

Sofia Papazova talks with Elizabeth Kostova (founder of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation) and author Debra Gwartney at CapitaLiterature (29–31 May 2012, Sofia, Bulgaria) – the annual follow-up of the famous Sozopol Fiction Seminars

Elizabeth Kostova and Debra Gwartney at  CapitaLiterature 2012

Mrs. Kostova, when did you first have the idea to start the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation?

When I came to Bulgaria on my book tour, I met a lot of writers and I saw that they were working very hard and they are proud, but they had very poor opportunities to reach writers from other countries and I wanted to do something about this.

What have been the biggest challenges of founding and running the foundation? What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the fact we do only a few things, but we do them in a very high standard and quality and also of the fact that we try to create opportunities that are based on the management and challenge of hard work.

Elizabeth Kostova at CapitaLiterature

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. Since its inception, the foundation has been offering invaluable support to the Bulgarian literary community and has helped Bulgarian contemporary literature cross the borders of the country and enter the worldwide literary scene. Would you like to say something to all the participants throughout the years and to the team of the foundation?

I would like to say “Thank you”, because we have worked so hard for years. Thanks to the incredible director Milena Deleva, to the incredible assistant Simona Ilieva, to the Red House and to all the sponsors. I’m only a small part of the sponsorship and we do wonderful work with so many persons, including the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the American Foundation for Bulgaria, the American Embassy and private donors. We have great support. I’m also so grateful to the Bulgarian writers, because they show so much enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm helps our organization.

Elizabeth Kostova at CapitaLiterature

What excited you and made you want to focus so much energy on supporting Bulgarian literature and the Bulgarian authors?

I have a very strong personal connection to Bulgaria and also, as I came to understand the story, I realized how much Bulgaria had shaped me as a writer. I was writing about Bulgaria. I was inspired by the country and I wanted to give it some international road. So when I tried to, I realized there was a niche so I created the organization and because I wanted to give something for all that.

What does the future hold for the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and for you?

I very much hope that we can keep doing the things we’ve been doing every year; the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, the annual Translation prize, the Krastan Dyankov Award and our wonderful competition for a novel published in the US. The novel that has just come out is by Milen Rouskov and we are very proud that this novel is getting great reviews in the US. I hope we can continue doing these annual projects and do them well.

Can we expect a new book from you soon?

Absolutely! I’m working on a new novel and I’m a very slow writer. So you have to expect it in a couple more years.


Debra Gwartney at CapitaLiterature

Mrs. Gwartney, could you please tell us a little about yourself – How did you start writing and why are you here today?

I grew up in the West of the United States in what they call Idaho. I began writing when I was twenty, as a journal. I supported newspapers and magazines for many years and I started writing creative work a little later and that took me to book writing and teaching.

Is this your first time in Bulgaria? Did you have a chance to take a walk around Sofia?

Yes, this is my first time here. Yesterday we walked all over Sofia; it’s just a beautiful city with beautiful streets and architecture, the Cathedral and the Archeological museum, which my husband and I like very much. It’s so well done, really nice.

The name of the talk you just gave today is “Writing about Trauma” which is also the name of your memoir in which you write about the nightmarish but also enlightening moments you had to go through when your two oldest daughters ran away from home. What do you want your message to the Bulgarian audience to be?

Elizabeth Kostova asked me to talk about this because I did write about dramatic experience. And I think she just thinks it’s a personal matter. Writing about yourself is kind of a new idea in Bulgaria. She thought maybe I could share some ideas about how you start thinking about writing out of your own experience. It’s a difficult thing.

Debra Gwartney at CapitaLiterature

What inspired you to write this story?

My own story. I needed to store it out, because I was a writer and I think that was the way for me to re-tell my own situation. I can think about it but it was much more helpful to write about it.

There is despair and sometimes even helplessness in the book, but also inexhaustible hope and strength. What was the most important lesson you personally learned from this episode of your life?

I think the most important personal message is that I needed to know my children better so I could understand my daughters better; I’ve reached the idea of motherhood and they challenged me with their behavior. They really challenged me to understand who I am. That was it.

Do you have any new writing projects underway?

I am actually writing about my childhood now. It’s another kind of challenge: my childhood in the Western United States.

Elizabeth Kostova and Debra Gwartney at  CapitaLiterature 2012


Edited by Lauren Sophie Kearney
Photos by Sofia Papazova
Questions by Jasmina Tacheva

For more information regarding the projects of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation check out the following links:

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